ATLANTA — The state Senate has passed a pair of bills authorizing a nonbinding referendum on an elected mayor and board of education chairman for the city of Gainesville.
The two bills have already been passed by the House and now await the signature of Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The measures were authored by Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, and had the support of the Hall County legislative delegation.
Rogers’ initial proposal was met with opposition from the Gainesville City Council and from some board of education members.
Gainesville Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner told The Times Friday that she is not opposed to an elected mayor, but she wants to make sure the city’s government system, which keeps the city manager as the city’s chief executive officer, stays intact.
Councilman Danny Dunagan echoed the sentiment.
Both said that with the extent of services the city offers, from trash collection to water and sewer, it needs to be run by a professional, not a politician.
“I don’t think anybody’s really advocating a strong mayor system,” Bruner said.
The nonbinding referendum would go before voters in the November municipal elections. If approved by voters, it is likely that Rogers would introduce legislation in next year’s session to amend the city’s charter.
Currently, the job of mayor is rotated among city council members every two years. The school board chairman is elected by the board members.
Under the current system, Bruner would become mayor in 2010, and her term could be affected by the referendum
“I don’t have a problem with an elected mayor,” Dunagan said. “If that’s what the citizens want, then far be it from me to question it.”
Bruner said council members should start working together and with residents now to come up with a suggested government system to propose to state legislators if the November referendum passes.
The council has options and needs to decide whether an elected mayor system would necessitate another ward in the city and what role an elected mayor would play, she said.
“I thinke we ought to be proactive and suggest a way to configure it if we do go to an elected (system) instead of just next year coming and we don’t have any input into it,” Bruner said.
Bruner said the city’s wards will likely have to be redrawn in the coming years when census information is updated in 2010.
Having an elected mayor would likely also cause redistricting in the city.
It would make more sense, Bruner said, to redraw city wards once, rather than twice.
Dunagan took issue only with Rogers’ approach to the referendum. Rogers first broached the idea in a December meeting with the City Council.
After that initial meeting, Dunagan said Rogers never responded to requests from the council to meet and discuss the issue.
Dunagan described the state legislator’s approach to the referendum as forceful and inconsiderate of the intricacies of local government.
“I guess he felt like he had to accomplish something this session so this is the one thing he accomplished,” Dunagan said.
“They can’t even run the state much less run the city of Gainesville.”
Mayor Myrtle Figueras and Councilman Robert “Bob” Hamrick were not immediately available for comment.